Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

How not to prevent sexual assault on a college campus

April 4, 2011 - 10:00 AM
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Gail Short Hanson addresses students who staged a sit-in in her office.

More thoughts on last week's student protests at American University over sexual assault funding: SAFER Campus, which advocates for sexual assault policy reform on college campuses, weighs in on American University's lackluster response to a student campaign to apply for $300,000 in sexual assault prevention funding from the Department of Justice.

In informing students why she refused to sign off on a grant application crafted by students, faculty, and staff over the course of the past year, university Vice President Gail Short Hanson explained: "It's very hard to understand because it's administrative . . . It's just a lot of detail and it's not what you care about." SAFER's take on that excuse:

I really don’t think it’s hard to understand why arranging a sexual assault prevention program . . . would present an administrative challenge. I mean seriously, I’m sure it was hard enough for the student protesters to get 40 folks to their sit-in, I think they get it. But here’s the thing: they’re not saying “This is so easy, why can’t you just make it happen?” They are saying, “this might be hard to accomplish, but it’s JUST THAT IMPORTANT. It’s important to us, and it should be that important to you.” Instead of condescending to students about how they just don’t care about the details, it would be nice if Hanson recognized why there is so much emotion around this issue, or even made it clear that despite the challenges she felt like the students had reasonable demands. I just don’t get it. You have 40 young people in your office telling you they want to be EDUCATED and this is how you respond?

This is a group of students that worked for months to hone the details of its grant application—and hashed the specifics out with Hanson herself—in order to ensure that the document met Department of Justice specifications and American University's expectations. I think they get it, too. Sexual assault activists and survivors are well aware of the challenges of addressing rape on college campuses; that's why they worked for a year for a chance at earning $300,000 to help combat the problem. And surely, no administrative detail could be so complex that it couldn't have been addressed in the five months since students first presented Hanson with the plan.

On a side-note: Quinn Pregliasco, an American University student who has pushed the administration to sign off on the sexual assault prevention grant, recently participated in SAFER's campaign to increase school accountability on the issue of sexual assault. That campaign will be particularly important to American University student activists in the coming years, who are now urging the administration to invest heavily in sexual assault prevention, grant money or no:

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